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Leonard Thomas
Thursday, Oct 30, 2014

Sports

WTA: The Serena show

The New Paper | Leonard Thomas | Thursday, Oct 30, 2014

There is a line near the end of the movie The Blind Side where future NFL Super Bowl champion Michael Oher asks why his adopted mother, played by the excellent Sandra Bullock, gives him only an abrupt goodbye as he prepares to embark on life at college.

The husband and father described her as an onion, who had to be peeled away layer by layer to get to her essence.

Singapore is proud to be Serena Williams country.

And we want more of her, even if we will never get to the bottom of who is the real Williams.

There is much of Williams we already understand, admire and must be greedy to use as DNA, as Singapore invests heavily in a bid to mould world-class athletes.

On Sunday, she became the first winner of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, and how fitting for us, that a woman who has raised her tennis game to such an extraordinary level, has won on our small but grand stage.

There she was at work at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, her office for the week, hot and bothered, angry, irritated, scowling, smouldering, smiling, beseeching, complaining, encouraging, running, scampering, skipping, sliding, wielding her Wilson like a weapon, and a wand for 69 minutes.

At times over the course of the week, Williams' racket has also looked like an unwieldy implement, but in the end, like on so many other occasions all over the world, she prevailed.

She fluffed her lines so badly in the group-stage loss to Simona Halep that it forced the whispers out again; that at 33 her powers were on the wane.

But, as she has done time and again since she was a teenager, Williams turned it around spectacularly and was back to her imperious best five days later to hand the Romanian a similarly lop-sided defeat in the final.

The world No. 1 said later: "It's not how you start but how you finish that matters, right."

At least a handful of the many young boys and girls who witnessed Williams bounce back here will take that lesson to heart.

Some would have been wide-eyed at her ferocious fight and will in the semi-final against Caroline Wozniacki, when she summoned even more strength from within, to stare down the choking pressure and reach another level, to win.

She says she'll be here in December playing for the Singapore Slammers when the International Premier Tennis League kicks off.

After more than 15 years she remains at the top of her game, she says she loves to have fun off the court, she enjoys singing and music and playing pranks on friends.

She adores fashion and is now a businesswoman with her own clothing line and recently held a runway show in New York.

EXPOSURE

She wants to hold one here next year and I hope the likes of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) work with Williams' team to make it happen.

The more we get of her, the more our youngsters will be exposed to the make up of one of the great sports champions.

Of course she has been found wanting on court, infamously lashing out at a line judge with some ugly language.

She has been boorish with a couple of players and clashed with umpires, some tennis followers claim she is aloof, and she bludgeoned her racket into a mangled mess here in her clash with Wozniacki.

But, she has grown up in the public eye so much, she never hides after she has transgressed, taking responsibility and apologising for her mistakes.

She works very hard, she continues to fine tune her game, and the mature Williams is more and more engaging at press conferences.

She stood tallest at the end of one of the greatest weeks in sport on Singapore soil in recent memory.

The Singapore Sports Hub Pte Ltd, Sport Singapore, World Sport Group and the STB must be congratulated for a stunning show, even if the roof at the Indoor Stadium needs work to prevent rain leaks.

It has been a heady period for sport over the last couple of months in the Republic.

Lewis Hamilton roared to the front in the drivers' duel for the Formula 1 title after the night race along downtown Singapore.

Juventus, Brazil and Japan thrilled football fans at the new National Stadium, Olympic medallists and world champion swimmers made a splash at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

Andrea Pirlo was a star, Neymar etched his name into our history books.

But Williams lived here for more than a week, fell in love with the Lion City, won, faltered, drove herself on, turned it on, and won it all, to join the Brazil football star in the history books.

I'd say she made the biggest impression of them all.

And with the WTA Finals here for four more years, we will get more of the Williams show.

leonardt@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 28, 2014.
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